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An Ocean Energy Project: The Oscillating Water Column

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

Alternative Energy Source Projects

Tagged Division

Energy Conversion and Conservation

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.197.1 - 13.197.12



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Paper Authors


Craig Somerton Michigan State University

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Craig W. Somerton is an Associate Professor and Associate Chair of the Undergraduate Program for Mechanical Engineering at Michigan State University. He teaches in the area of thermal engineering including thermodynamics, heat transfer, and thermal design. He also teaches the capstone design course for the department. Dr. Somerton has research interests in computer design of thermal systems, transport phenomena in porous media, and application of continuous quality improvement principles to engineering education. He received his B.S. in 1976, his M.S. in 1979, and his Ph.D. in 1982, all in engineering from UCLA.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

An Ocean Energy Project: The Oscillating Water Column Introduction Though an important alternative energy source, the topic of ocean energy in an alternative energy class often receives less attention than some of the more popular alternative energy technologies such as solar, wind, fuel cells, and biofuels. To address this concern in the alternative energy course taught at Michigan State University, an ocean energy project is assigned. This paper presents one of those projects, the oscillating water column (OWC).

ME 417 Design of Alternative Energy Systems is a senior level design intensive elective course [1]. It is a project based course for which the students carry out three technical projects. In its last offering the projects were: design of a fuel cell system, design of a wave energy system, and design of a solar energy system. The focus of the course is for students to use simple engineering principles in developing predictive models for alternative energy systems. Some of the projects require students to develop their own calculation tool (a spreadsheet or MATLAB program), while other projects use commercially available software, for example spreadsheet programs from RETScreen International [2], which is managed under the leadership and ongoing financial support of Natural Resources Canada’s (NRCan) CANMET Energy Technology Centre - Varennes (CETC-Varennes). However, for some topics in the course, such as ocean energy, software is not readily available. The OWC project presented in this paper uses an in-house MATLAB program that allows the students to perform design studies with respect to power production and energy costs for several design parameters, including location and size.

This paper continues with an overview on ocean energy, along with details of the various wave energy systems. The particulars on the thermodynamic models, the project statement, and some typical design analysis results are then be presented. Next, student feedback on the project will be reviewed. Lessons learned conclude the paper

Ocean Energy Oceans cover approximately 71% of the earth’s surface [3] and are the largest energy reservoir on the earth’s surface. The United States has a general coastline length of 12,000 miles [4], so there is adequate opportunity to interact with these vast energy reservoirs. One may argue that there are four different forms of ocean energy: tidal energy, current energy, thermal gradient energy, and wave energy. The first three will be briefly reviewed with wave energy being the focus of this section.

Tides are created by the gravitational pull of the moon and the sun. Coastal tide heights can very significantly due to local geographical features such as bays and inlets. Current technology requires a five meter difference between high and low tides for the production of electricity [5]. It is estimated that worldwide there are about 40 such sites. Locations for some of the sites with the highest tides is provided in Table 1

Somerton, C. (2008, June), An Ocean Energy Project: The Oscillating Water Column Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--3647

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